A tall order
El Tumi Peruvian Restaurant585 E. Moana Ln.
Reno, NV 89502
There aren’t many restaurants whose opening I’ve so eagerly anticipated as that of El Tumi. For what seemed like six months, I’ve driven by its location on Moana just west of Kietzke hoping to see the “opening soon” sign replaced with something exclaiming “now open.” Just over a month ago, El Tumi opened its doors, and my wife, Kat, and I tried it out one Wednesday for lunch.
The family who owns and operates El Tumi comes from a town near Lima and has crafted a menu chock full of traditional Peruvian fare. Among other things, this means you’re going to eat some starches, namely potatoes, rice and yucca. The interior is simple, neat and orderly. Most of the decoration comes from vibrantly colored South American-themed artwork, depicting things like women in shawls and narrow cobblestone streets lined with post-colonial buildings. Accompanying the décor was service equally as warm. The young man working the dining area had a wonderful smile and a very quiet, sort of humble way about him, which was nothing short of endearing. In fact, the lack of pretense and graciousness about El Tumi set a tone for the meal that left me desperately hoping the food would be exceptional.
Kat and I started with the yucca frita ($4.45) with Huancaina sauce. Never before have I had this tuber served up like French fries, and never before have I enjoyed it so much. The Huancaina, a light cheese sauce, was a nice accompaniment for dipping. I asked for a little cup of red chili sauce called rocoto to spice up this dish and our main courses, and wow, did it add some bite.
For entrees, Kat had the palta rellena ($6.95), an avocado topped with carrots, peas, potatoes, corn and homemade mayonnaise. For $12.95, El Tumi offers a variety plate with downsized portions of three main courses, which I ordered. I chose the aji de gallina, shredded chicken mixed with a creamy sauce consisting of yellow chili, milk, bread and spices; the carapulcra, a chicken, pork and potato stew in a red sauce with a hint of spice; and finally the frijol, beans in a thin sauce consisting heavily of sautéed onions and garlic.
Unfortunately, our entrees were pretty bland and textureless. The vegetables atop Kat’s avocado had absolutely no crunch or flavor, and I have to speculate about their freshness. None of the three offerings on my plate was particularly memorable, either. The most disappointing was the aji de gallina, which had the consistency of stewed bread and a flavor to match. With all of the spices so prevalent in Peruvian cooking, I expected much more. An experience like this makes me wonder, “Did I just order the wrong thing?” After all, the people next to us raved about the pollo a la brasa ($5.95)—a quarter chicken cooked rotisserie style with French fries and a salad ($6.95).
I traveled through Peru twice while living in Ecuador and have fond memories of those trips. I wanted Kat to get dressed up in the Cusqueña beer shirt she and about a million other tourists bought while traveling through Cusco. She said no. However, it got me thinking, was I hoping for something impossible—namely a delicious meal that also recreates the sense of romanticism and adventure I felt traveling through the Andes?
That’s a tall order for an emerging restaurant in Reno.